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Sunday, July 14, 2024
Law

‘Powerless’ Brett Favre Attempts to Revive Lawsuit Against Shannon Sharpe

  • A District Court judge dismissed the defamation suit in October.
  • An attorney for Favre argued that Shannon Sharpe’s comment that the QB ‘stole’ welfare dollars isn’t protected speech.
Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre watches from a suite in the third quarter of Super Bowl 56 between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. The Rams came back in the final minutes of the game to win 23-20 on their home field. Super Bowl 56 Cincinnati Bengals Vs La Rams
Sam Greene/Cincinnati Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

An attorney for Brett Favre argued in front of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that Shannon Sharpe’s comment that the Hall of Fame quarterback “stole” welfare dollars isn’t protected speech and that Favre’s defamation lawsuit should be reinstated. 

Amit R. Vora implored the court to overturn October’s decision by a U.S. District Court judge to dismiss the lawsuit in Tuesday’s oral arguments that centered on whether Sharpe’s comments are covered by the doctrine of rhetorical hyperbole, speech protected by the First Amendment. 

“He’s unable to counteract this insidious and spreading lie,” Vora said during oral arguments. “There’s readily available evidence that viewers, in fact, took this accusation literally [and] that this accusation harmed Favre’s reputation. In fact [Favre] has never stolen money from anyone, and yet that evidence may never see the light of day.

“It renders Favre powerless to counteract this attack on his reputation.” 

Favre has long denied any wrongdoing as it relates to the $8 million Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds that went to Favre, a volleyball arena at the University of Southern Mississippi, and Prevacus, a drug company that Favre invested in and served as a spokesperson for before the Mississippi welfare scandal came to light in 2020. Favre has not been charged criminally, although he’s among more than 40 defendants in a lawsuit filed by Mississippi’s welfare agency that seeks to recover some of the more than $77 million in misspent TANF funds. 

“If you read his comments in context, it’s quite clear that he was expressing his opinions rhetorically, fiery, but they were protected by the First Amendment,” Sharpe attorney Joseph M. Terry said. 

The three-judge appeals panel is expected to rule in the coming weeks. 

Favre originally sued Sharpe in February 2023, the same time he filed defamation lawsuits against Pat McAfee and Mississippi State Auditor Shad White. The three lawsuits were originally filed in Mississippi courts before Sharpe and McAfee successfully compelled their cases to federal court. 

“I’ll see you in court, pal,” McAfee said on his Pat McAfee Show on Feb. 10, 2023. 

That case was settled—with no money changing hands—in May 2022 and included a clarification from McAfee. 

“I have no personal knowledge about any case involving Brett in Mississippi,” McAfee said in a video posted to X. “I am pleased to report solely, based solely on me clarifying these points now, with no settlement paid, Brett is withdrawing his suit against me.”

Sharpe continued to fight his defamation lawsuit that honed in on comments Sharpe made in September 2022 on his prior show, FS1’s Undisputed.

“So, if that is the poorest state, Brett Favre is taking from the underserved,” Sharpe said on air. “You made a hundred-plus million dollars in the NFL, and to talk about, well, [Favre] didn’t know. This is what Brett Favre texted, ‘If you were to pay me, is there any way the media can find out where it came from and how much?’

“He stole money from people that really needed that money.”

U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of Mississippi Keith Starrett dismissed Favre’s lawsuit against Sharpe in October. Starrett stated that Sharpe’s comments were protected by the First Amendment when he granted Sharpe’s motion to dismiss with prejudice, which meant Favre was unable to refile a complaint against Sharpe. 

Favre appealed to the 5th Circuit days later. Favre’s defamation lawsuit against White in Hinds County (Miss.) Circuit Court remains ongoing.

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